After my short flight to Baltimore I met Holly Bourbon. Holly is the DSO (dive safety officer) of the National Aquarium, and an associate Sea Rover. Holly runs the entire dive program at the National Aquarium, not an easy job managing people who are diving with sometimes potentially dangerous animals, in precarious places, and you have to deal with over 200 volunteer divers. But somehow Holly does it, and she does it really well.
For the week I stayed with Holly, her husband Billy, and of course Wally their dog. Holly, Billy and Wally made me feel right at home and more like family than my own family. Even bringing me to a wedding. My first few days here we went on walks at wildlife sanctuaries and toured Wally’s favorite walking paths. But what I was really here for was the aquarium!
This Monday was one of the few Mondays in my life I will be excited for. Holly and I went around getting my dive locker situated, meeting people, and getting my ID ready. Before i could do any diving in the aquarium I had to do a check out dive with Holly. We went in the Atlantic Coral Reef, a race track tank that holds 335,000 gallons, houses about 800-900 individuals across 90 species, and is 13ft deep. The Monday A team of volunteer divers descended onto the dive platform getting ready to clean coral replicas and feed fish. Holly and I swam down to the end of the tanks where we practiced skills. I removed my mask put it back on and saw all these kids staring at me. I wasn’t prepared to be on display, but over time I grew to like it and waved to all the kids. As I took my weight belt off and put it back on the kids kept staring at me for almost the entire 25 minutes we took to go through skills. One new skill Holly taught me was how to breath off a free flow regulator, just kind of sipping the air from it. I did that for 40 seconds with people watching on, I could only imagine what they were thinking me sitting there with masses of bubbles flying around my head. Once I’d completed the skills we did a short orientation around the tank. After that I was cleared to dive.
My first photography dive in the tank took place after lunch. I went in with the volunteer divers. As they cleaned I photographed the multitude of fish. One challenge photographically was that the inside of the tank was pretty bare and didn’t have much background to it. I was forced to come up with some way to make the photos interesting. I decided to shoot everything with a slow shutter speed. This way I made interesting shots and wouldn’t have to worry as much about the background. I was even greeted by Felix the resident green moray eel, who is usually hiding. One of the harder subjects to photograph was the tarpon. It’s basically like photographing a mirror with bright lights. The tarpon was intrigued by me because of the massive shiny camera and it thought I was going to give him food. I would sit in one spot wait for the tarpon to come by swim around me then I would get a few shots. Most shots weren’t that great but I got a few good ones. Another favorite subject for me was the many blue tangs and doctor fish feeding on the lettuce. I could get as close as I wanted to them and they wouldn’t be afraid of me. By the end of the day I got some pretty nice shots and had an amazing time in the aquarium.